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Tales of Adventure Blog

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
with the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push back the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

This we ask in the name of our Captain,
Who is Jesus Christ.

 

Filtering by Tag: Faith and Work

Sabbatical 2018

Matthew Overton

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I haven't written in a while because I have been on a sabbatical around the U.S. and in the U.K. Mainly I am relaxing with family and writing here and there as well as exploring new places and old places that feel like home. But, part of what I have also been doing is meeting with some folks from different institutions who are interested in Christian Social Enterprise and the work that I have been doing with my team in Washington.

Over the coming weeks I plan on writing a number of posts about those conversations and some growing thoughts that I have been having. Below I am going to list the folks that I am meeting with and lay out some of what I plan on posting about in relation to them. There will also be a couple of guest posts that I have requested.

1. Dave Odom- Dave is the director of the Duke's Faith and Leadership initiatives at Duke University. That initiative is funded by the Lilly Endowment. Dave's main job, as I understand it, is to help improve institutional leadership of every kind in the North American church. He is really good at listening and grabbing ahold of what is at work in new developments in the American church.

2. Abigail Visco Rusert- Abigail is the Director for the Institute for Youth Ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary. She is heavily involved with new youth ministry projects at the seminary.

3. Jonny Baker- Jonny was/is a big figure in the Emerging Church movement in the U.K. He is currently directing the training program for the Church Missionary Society that is training pioneering leaders in the U.K. I am rarely excited to meet with someone. I started reading Jonny's blogs and looking at his stuff related to Proost back in 2002 and am always impressed with his work.

4. Greg Jones- Greg is kind of leadership guru. He has lead Duke Divinity and most recently was the Executive Vice President and Provost of Baylor University. He is helping to coach me in how to build this crazy thing that I have started.

5. Steve Chalke- Steve is the head of one of the largest non-profits (Oasis) in the United Kingdom. He is an amazing speaker and author. I think he is the Rob Bell of the U.K. (love it or hate it is up to you) and many American Christians have no idea who he is. I want to explore with him how he has kept so many missional ministries connected to a local church.

6. Church of Scotland- I hope to meet with some folks from the "Go For It" initiative about their work. I love the Church of Scotland having worked in Scotland doing missionary work for a brief time. I would love to help them with unleashing the idea of social enterprise in the Church of Scotland.

7. Homeboy Industries- This opportunity hasn't been set up yet, but I am trying to meet up with someone from their business end of operations to understand how they have strung together their organization. It would be amazing to get a chance to speak with them. I also have never been to Homeboy despite having Father Boyle come and speak at our church. I am hoping to get a feel not just for the business side of things, but for the atmosphere of the place. We will see!

8. Matryoshka Haus- I don't even know how to describe this community except to say that it is a co-working space in that sustains itself by designing tools for non-profits to better measure the impact of their ministries. They are also really good with design thinking in the startup process. I am hopeful that I can help them in some small way to think theologically (as a practitioner) about how they design their tools.

 

Hopefully, something in this mix interests you! It's been exciting so far. I almost (ALMOST) can't wait to get back to work!

"Ecto 1"- The Most Humbling Joyous Help I Have Ever Received.

Matthew Overton

This is what I like to refer to as "Ecto 1". It reminds me of the Ghostbusters rig in the movie except rather than keeping the spirit containment unit in the basement of the building, we just mounted it on our truck.  It's also my SECOND pickup truck. I don't know how this happened. I grew up two blocks from the Pacific Ocean in surfing country. And while I was born in Virginia, I was not born in pickup country. Some people have called it "Dorothy" from the movie Twister. Others say it looks like a Portland food cart version of a Breaking Bad episode.  To me, Ecto 1 is a sign of everything that is awesome about social enterprise and the church. It is a symbol of friendship, fellowship, and shared passions.

Ecto 1 is simply a watering truck on a converted F-250 pickup truck.

About 9 months ago our Downtown Business Association recruited Mowtown to water their downtown flower baskets.  They hang them every year in the downtown area in order to beautify the local business district. They had a truck, with a built in watering apparatus, and all we needed to do was supply the workers and a bid.  They had also worked with teens and young adults to water the baskets previously.  So, we leapt at the opportunity. But, that's when things got a bit more complicated.

For various reasons, our local city didn't want Mowtown to rent the truck. They also didn't want to sell us their old 1970's Dodge Pickup. And this is where things got awesome.

Several of my team members stepped in.  First, they went out and looked for pickup trucks. They went to local auctions and online. Eventually they found  a truck they liked and when they told the owner what we were up to he knocked the price down substantially. But, that is where the real work began.

This is Dave. Dave is a retired airline pilot/Rube Goldberg truck mechanic. Dave is awesome. Be like Dave.

This is Dave. Dave is a retired airline pilot/Rube Goldberg truck mechanic. Dave is awesome. Be like Dave.

These guys spent hours thinking about the best designs. They purchased a tank and mounted on an aluminum reinforced palate so that when the watering season is over we can pull the tank right out of the truck. I consulted with friends who are engineers about pickup size, and water shifting, and baffles. Next they put in a pump, mounted a light on top, consulted with the city about stripping the old truck for watering tools. They fixed up the actual truck which needed some significant work. It had holes in the pickup bed and needed a new bumper.

All along I had to proceed in faith in this because I know nothing about cars. I can change oil, tires, spark plugs, batteries, and filters, but I don't. Ever. I loathe working on cars. I know how to do some things, but I don't really "get" cars.  But, because these guys on my team care about students and about this idea that we all have been working on they laid out for this idea in terms of money, time, and passion.

A few weeks ago I went over to one of their houses to borrow their dump truck (yes they have one at home) and there was Ecto-1. I couldn't believe it. I honestly felt like crying the next day in worship because I was so thankful for friends like these. I know they enjoyed doing it, but I don't like when people help me out usually. I am pretty independent. It was humbling to say the least.

My point in all of this is simply to say the social enterprise requires a bunch of risk and trust. It also requires community. As much as I have wanted to test a model that proves to someone else that they could do this on their own too, I have had to realize that this is a group process. It takes way more than just my passion to get something like this off the ground. It takes the gifts of others too. I continue to learn that lesson in spades.

But, this is why the church matters. The church is a bucket of ages, stages of life, gifts, talents, treasures, and passion like no other that I know. It has a built in ethic to lay one's life down for the sake of the world. As I continue to argue and believe, it is one of the best vehicles I know to engage social enterprise.

This morning at 4 a.m. an 18 year old student and a hard working American who emigrated from Central America are out watering baskets in our downtown. We are helping them economically, they are forging unusual community together, our downtown is being beautified, we are making some profit, and my church community is more engaged than it was a year ago. It's the best missional idea I have ever had.

If Christian Social Enterprise is wrong, I don't want to be right.

Why Christian Social Enterprise? #4- Compassion Instead of Empathy or Rationalism

Matthew Overton

Over the last few years there has been a lot of talk about the need for empathy in our world. Empathy is generally defined as an emotional understanding of the suffering of another. It's emotionally connecting with the feelings and thoughts of another person.  If you want a tutorial you can watch Brene Brown's video on empathy here. It went viral last year.

And while empathy is good, I think it also has some huge weaknesses. Empathy is all about feeling the "feels" of somebody else.  If you watch the Brown video you will see that a heavy part of the theme of empathy is actually not taking action.  To attempt to take action, in this way of thinking, is to avoid actually connecting with the emotions of the other. Attempting solutions is just as avoidant and emotionally disconnected in this view, as offering a spiritual platitude like, "Everything happens for a reason."  There is some truth here of course. Many folks in our world rush in with solutions without a clear sense of the plight of our neighbor. Often we bring little help. In many situations the better alternative would be to practice some active and empathetic listening.

But, we might contrast Brown's version of the world with Yale professor and psychologist Paul Bloom. Watch his 2 minute clip here. Bloom argues that all the feelings based emphasis of empathy is actually bad.  Bloom thinks empathy does more harm than good in that it engages our emotions too heavily.  In Bloom's view empathy often causes us to rush into impassioned action that is based on emotion rather than rationality.  Empathy might be good when you are dealing with a friend one on one, but when you attempt to approach real world problem solving (hunger or homelessness) with empathy what you end up with is a whole bunch of feelings that lead to actions that can be really destructive.  Essentially he thinks that empathy actually fuels moralism.  Bloom argues for us to stop it with the whole empathy train and instead focus on the rational side of our brains when it comes to real world problem solving.

So who is right and what the heck does this have to do with social enterprise? The truth is that they are both right and wrong. I tend to side with Brown a good deal more than with Bloom, but I distrust the fact that her model seems to be fine tuned to small scale intimate relationships. There comes a point when action is needed and is often needed on a larger scale. I suspect that Brown would acknowledge this.  What we need in social enterprise is a third way.  

We need a methodology for bring about the good that we hope to see in our world that slows us down enough that we seek first the understanding of our neighbor rather than rushing in with unhelpful actions or emotionless advice. Yet, we also need at times a proper distance emotionally from a series of problems so that we can create rational solutions that are not based solely on our emotions. At some point action will be needed. I think the concept of Christian compassion and the story it is rooted in gets us to this 3rd place. Let's look at what Christian compassion is and then turn to what it might offer social enterprise.

Compassion is the desire to not only feel the suffering of another, but to enter into that suffering in a meaningful way.  Compassion is the willful choice to actually suffer alongside one's neighbor.  It's being with rather than just feeling with.  We find this concept arrive at its fullness in the Christian story of the God who comes in Christ and enters into the muck and mire of our world.  God doesn't just emotionally feel our pain or empathetically understand the injustices of our world. He enters into them in ways that are shocking. He isn't as rationally framed as Dr. Bloom would idealize.  A focal point of this kind of intimate engagement is of course Christ's work on the cross.  It is there that Christ demonstrates the fullness of his love for the world, but also the fullness of his understanding of the suffering that this world has every day.  God doesn't just say, "I feel your suffering in my core." He suffers with us. We call this activity "Christ's Passion".  So, to have com-passion means that we enter into the suffering of others, not just emotionally, but physically. And yet, even in Jesus a kind of rational boundaried distance is maintained.

Jesus, while powerfully engaging the human experience exercises restraint. He doesn't heal everyone and he doesn't seem to get overwhelmed emotionally with the suffering of others. I wouldn't call him rationally "cool" in the way Bloom talks about it. Jesus is clearly a person of both passion and engaged emotion, but he seems boundaried. He reaches out with deep feeling to those who are hurting, but he takes action with those he can. He balances opposing the oppressor with helping the oppressed. He walks, touches, and heals but he also goes off to recharge and rest. It's a kind of emotionally engaged patient urgency.  Consider the rich young ruler. Jesus defines for the man the one thing that is barring him from entering the Jesus Way fully (the man's great wealth), but when the man cannot move forward and walks off, Jesus doesn't pursue him. Jesus understands the man's tension but doesn't get wrapped up in it.  He has boundaries. Empathy in the hands of a person without boundaries can be nearly as unhealthy as the cool rationalist who only wants to act without feeling or first seeking understanding.

Jesus also doesn't fall into the emotional trap of pretending he IS those he helps.  He doesn't seem to overly identify as one of the poor. You never hear him say that he is the blind man or the leper or the tax collector. But, he does listen to them, feast with them, and aid them with healing, pointed conversation, and meals. He identifies with the suffering of those he serves, but he also finds moments to rejoice greatly, attend feasts, and sit with children. His culminating act of compassion is of course his Passion and yet he doesn't get stuck there. He is not stuck on the cross forever.  Jesus refuses to allow us to dwell only in suffering because he is resurrected. There is a trajectory of future hope in his ministry as well. It doesn't just sit with us.  Christians are not permitted to wallow in the suffering of others or only called to empathize. They are called to enter that suffering, lovingly alleviate it where they can, but remain able to experience hope and joy. Jesus does indeed climb down emotionally into the hole of humanity, so to speak, but he is constantly pointing hopefully out of that hole.  He identifies with others in spectacular fashion but also seems to move them along in hope. There is a kind of distance here I think. If Jesus is truly human, then even He must need boundaries as all of us do.  Jesus maintains a sacred balance of emotional understanding and engagement alongside physical action and justice resolution. Social enterprise needs the voices that bear this story of this man who holds the center.

Social enterprise seeks to solve real world problems with solutions that are healthy and equitable both for those attempting to help and those who are recipients. Healthy social enterprise refuses to capitalize too heavily on its audience's emotions (think: videos of children running after aid trucks) but it also refuses to solve problems from places of such emotional distance that it fails to understand those it seeks to help. If Christians are going to engage social enterprise in a way that allows us to do it well we are going to need a way to balance empathy with cool rational action. We need endeavors that begin by actually seeking to patiently understand the experience of the other (empathy). Brown is right, there must be non-solution based resonance first. But, we also need action based experiments that seek to alleviate suffering when possible that are not driven solely by our emotions (rational action). It is in Christ that we see these things brought together in fullness. As is so often the case it is God (or the idea of God if you prefer) that allows us to hold two seemingly opposed strategies in a kind of sustainable tension. It is this sustainable tension that Christianity offers social enterprise.

 

 

 

Diamonds and Stones: Adventures in Missional Entrepreneurship

Matthew Overton

Let me tell you what happened to me yesterday. I bet you will laugh.

First, my Thursdays begin with landscaping. This might mean I need to make a run to the dump to empty out a trailer, but it always means I have to load our equipment and hook up the trailer. It is usually a fairly smooth process. I have gotten it down at this point and over the years I have gotten really good with loading and backing trailers primarily because of all the youth ministry trips I have led. Anyway, this morning was no different. I loaded the equipment, made sure everything was secure, made sure I had our landscaping crew box and binder, and checked the chains and electrical connection. Next I pulled out onto the driveway and closed up all the gates to my side yard and then was off. It was very typical. I headed down Highway 14 and when I hit some traffic I pulled off onto the old highway. I love driving the old highway anyway. It is really bumpy, but you feel like you are stepping back in time just a bit. You get to see what old Vancouver looks like, freight trains go by, and there is an eclectic mix of housing. Anyway, I got done with the drive, pulled into the church and prepared to hand off the keys to my crew amidst the pouring rain. And this is where my day began to unfold a little differently than I had anticipated.

As I lifted the keys to my crew guy he is looking outside and says, "Well that's pretty fun." I assumed that he was referring to the weather. We have 3 major storms coming in this weekend and he had just moved here from Northern California. The gray and the consistent rain can grind on you a little bit especially when you are doing outdoor work. And so I turned my head and made some kind remark about getting used to the weather up here (which of course was really code for: "Sorry man, but you are going to have to suck it up out there today.") but when I looked at out my landscaping trailer it seemed a little off. Off was the operative word because my trailer was missing it's entire back gate. Gone. Pins still in their holes.

The trailer should have looked something like this. You'll notice that it has a properly attached gate.

Even if the trailer had looked like the one below, it would have been better by a slight margin. Because at least if it had looked like this second it would have meant that I simply had towed the trailer while dragging the gate for a few miles. Embarrassing, but intact.

But, nope. My trailer was missing the entire gate. With its license plate. I was gobsmacked. I still can't figure out exactly how THE WHOLE THING FELL OFF! So I quickly loaded my crew mate into my rig and we headed back down the old highway (now free of all forms of relaxing nostalgia) to recover my trailer tailgate. Oh and I bounced a $400 blower out the back as well. Phenomenal.

Eventually we recovered the gate and thankfully no one had driven over it or wrecked their car. But, in the 15 minutes in between my blissful ignorance and the recovery mission someone had stolen the blower off of the road. Joy.

And this was how my entrepreneurial day began.

One of the things I have learned in doing this social/missional entrepreneurship is that things just don't go the way you plan them. EVER. It can be pretty frustrating. I had to get the first problem solved, cancel an appointment for my day job, and then gather myself for my day in the office.

A key mantra that I grew up hearing my Dad say was, "Some days are diamonds and some days are stones." Usually it was said after something had gone wrong. Maybe he had a rough day at work where something just didn't work out the way he planned it.  But, that phrase has a critical truth to it when you engage social entrepreneurship or missional entrepreneurship. It is not for the faint of heart. It has a lot of ups and downs. I am learning to stay calm, keep moving forward, and trusting in God. I can never be sure, but I still feel confident that this project represents a calling in my life. A very unexpected one.

And so part of my day was a stone. I was stressed and anxious.  But an hour later I got another phone call. It was unexpected. Someone had nominated our landscaping jobs program for a Traditioned Innovation award through Duke Divinity School's Faith and Leadership publication. They called to let me know that not only had we been nominated, but that we had won! Better yet, it was a $10,000 award grant! I almost wept.

We have been fighting as an organization to build up enough capital to cover some equipment, but what we really need is margin for the right employee to be working at bids and projects for more hours. This gift represents a huge opening for us. I have been working for a gift like this for over a year now and mostly I had grown content with the fact that building this enterprise was going to take a long time. It just felt like we hadn't made a ton of progress lately.  We can use the gift for equipment, but it will allow us to channel more of our revenue toward funding our employees to expand the business. Our hope is that eventually we can get to a place where we can take on some clients who are unable to mow their lawns and afford lawn care. We hope to take care of their properties at no cost or reduced cost.  As we do those sorts of things, we can hire more students. This was one serious diamond in my day! I was so ecstatic and stressed at the same time I gave myself a massive headache.

The point is that some days doing entrepreneurial stuff it feels like my rear end just fell off somewhere back there along the way. And you always feel like you are driving the slightly bumpy back roads.  But, if you wait patiently, trust, and pray a small victory or a moment of clarity comes along. Both the diamonds and the stones teach you things. They both have value. Both can make you want to cry. It's just a matter of sifting.

"Under the Table": A Conversation on the Job

Matthew Overton

One of the reasons (there were a ton of reasons) that I began this project of seeing if it was possible to do youth ministry through the medium of work/teen jobs was that I had a sense remodeling my own house that the conversations I was getting in were better than those I had on Sunday nights at youth group.  Regular youth group still has a very important place in my book as it ministers to other needs, but it was just easier to get into more meaty conversations about life while doing work.  Further, I had also found while paying students to work on my house that it was very easy to link those conversations to issues of faith and in doing so, faith becomes more real and therefore less abstract.  I encountered this again recently while working a job with one of my Mowtown students. If you are new to this blog or this conversation Mowtown is the particular small business that I have started to put teens to work and do ministry at the same time. Essentially I created my own social entrepreneurship or missional entrepreneurship (if you want to use churchy language) as a means to do more impactful ministry. 

I have also been asked many times along the way, "Isn't providing jobs for teenagers just its own form of therapeutic deism? How are you going to link Christian faith with this? This is a valid question and one that I spend a lot of time thinking about.  The last thing I want to do is create another ministry that simply makes money for its own sake or simply lives off of the church, but rather one that really makes little significant Kingdom impact in people's actual lives.  For those with that question, here is one bread crumb vignette from along the path of "A Youth Ministry that Works".

This summer, one of my students was forced by the necessity of family need to take a construction job under the table. This particular students was engaged in our church's volunteer summer internship, but had to pull out because of this job need.  Well, as we were headed out to our job site, we started to discuss the problems with being hired by someone "under the table." I explained to "Paul" that for every hour I hire him above board, I have to pay the government additional funds that help cover part of his social security, disability, unemployment, etc.  So, for every hour that he works under the table he is robbed of part of his retirement and he is robbed of recourse if he gets injured or is out of a job.  Furthermore, he was being baldly robbed since he was being paid significantly below our state's minimum wage.  All of this was news to him, but the connection points were huge!

For starters, his mother works multiple jobs under the table.  We had a long discussion about social security and his mom when she "retires".  He had NO CLUE as to how social security worked. I think this was actually a really scary conversation for him when he started to think about what it meant for his mom's present and future.  This lead us into a discussion about the political debate surrounding immigration which matters to him as a hispanic latino student. We even discussed a bit of economics. We talked about how I am at a competitive disadvantage as a business owner in terms of making a profit because of folks that hire under the table. They make more money off of his work than I do. In other words, both he and I are being robbed by the practice.  And what all of this finally lead to was a discussion about justice and God.  We talked about God's desire to set things in the world right and we discussed how we are a part of that. We talked about integrity in life and why doing things legally and above board are signs of loving our neighbor.

The revelation in this midst of all this conversation is simply that I was equipping a kid to see the world through more of a gospel lens in the most natural way possible. Most of my discussions about justice with my teenagers tend to be abstract. We end up talking about issues that seem more dramatic because they happen in the 3rd world or on a mission trip outside of our small city or someplace that seems like "over there." If we struggle with dichotomies between our Sunday life and our weekly job lives (and we surely do), we certainly also struggle with false dichotomies between mission work and justice issues in our back yard and seeming like things that happen "over there".  Conveniently this dichotomy allows our communities of faith to avoid dealing with our own first world poverty and the messiness of the personal politics involved. That kind of avoidance is of course its own justice issue. So much of what our churches need to talk about in order to convince teenagers and young adults that faith actually matters to real life are just these sorts of issues of justice and injustice.  There is almost an entire economy of issues that operate, in their own way, as "under the table" issues in our churches. They never really are engaged and this leaves our people with the sense that faith just doesn't matter out in the real world.  We don't know how to engage these issues from behind the pulpit as that feels like a kind of power play. Many ministers feel like preaching too heavy handedly about justice to their congregation limits dialogue and further bifurcates our congregations along political lines. I agree with this to an extent. But, to not find a medium for engaging these issues at all isn't acceptable. Here is the thing though, the inbreaking of the Kingdom won't be slowed. It will happen with us or without us. The church can engage a justice filled life or be left wondering where God went? He may in fact already be absent from some of the vacuous old time sanctuaries and suburban worship centers we already occupy.

This conversation was also the most real and natural discussion about integrity I have probably ever had with a student. Most of the discussions I heard about integrity in churches (mostly during my more evangelical college years) were cheapened by the fact that they tended to be had around moralistic issues like telling lies and human sexuality etc. etc. etc. You know the kind of thing I mean, "If you don't have integrity in the small stuff...." This is all well and good, but it only tends to appeal to the most structured personalities who by sheer function of their own personal anxiety levels and desire for control tend to do EVERYTHING by the book already. For the rest of us, life is a bit messier. When you can talk with a student about how a complete lack of integrity grinds up other human beings over time....that has power. That actually points to the import that a life of faith actually has.

I am learning a lot through this process of doing business as mission about my own blindness to certain issues. I am engaging students I never would have engaged before and our ministry probably would not have been able to sustain relationships with before. I am seeing the connection between my own faith and issues that I was aware of, but really had no personal connection to or visceral experience with in any previous phase of life.  This process has been a ton of work and stress, but so far it has been good gospel work.  I continue to see its usefulness to those it serves and to my own walk along the Jesus Way.

Can Churches Serve as Effective Accelerators for Social Entrepreneurship?: Innovators Guest Post #5

Matthew Overton

Here is the second post from Meghan Easley. Her profile is at the bottom. She is just the sort of person Christian Social Entrepreneurship needs. She has ministry experience, works at a seminary, and is getting a Masters in social entrepreneurship. You couldn't ask for a better bird's eye view for the church and social entrepreneurship!

What is the difference between a business accelerator and the church? At first glance? Everything.

At second glance? Nothing. Here’s why:

1.      Business accelerators are filled with people who have great business ideas. They are skilled in a variety of arenas and come together to share ideas, pair into similar groups, and build successful companies. They are creative forces, they are good at coding and they spent college and half of a career studying and being an engineer. So are the people at my church. I am friends with graphic designers, accountants and general visionaries who are constantly filling air space with crazy ideas they have for businesses or careers. I am constantly in the swirl of pitches for new styles of music, new restaurants, and new phone applications. As a church attendee and social entrepreneurship student, I am always adding new ideas to my phone as they come to me. My church is filled with great idea generators around me in our common gatherings of worship.

2.      Business accelerators provide incredible community for a gathering of high-achieving entrepreneurs in one place to learn and grow together. They offer community support that helps teams develop pitch decks, business plan development and a growth strategy. My church is also pretty good at building and sustaining community. We gather together weekly, coming together as a larger church to celebrate and worship God. We are breathed out and form smaller groups throughout the week to do life together. Our community is filled with growth, development and becoming people who can enact a peculiar reality. While imperfect, church provides an overall stable and supportive community for my life, faith and work.

3.      Accelerator groups are filled with mentors that are matched with entrepreneurs hoping to enter similar sectors. They pair new business leaders with mentors who can build their idea, support leader development and coach them on how all the pieces of the start-up fit together. They become not only business guides but also the guide on how to run a company and its culture successfully. Whether formalized or not, church has been and continues to be an incredible source of mentorship for me. It has young and old, experienced and unexperienced, mashed together and given the chance to learn from one another. The older generation coaches and guides, teaching the younger how to live faithfully and lead well. The young bring a passion and energy that cannot be replicated in any other way.

4.      Accelerators give businesses access to seed capital and start-up investment from other greats in similar businesses. They offer new businesses the financial support they need to build their idea and launch toward creating returns. Sometimes an angel investor offers a modest amount, other times a venture capital firm jumps in for larger contributions. They recognize that it takes a little to get a lot in return on investment for a good idea. Somewhere on a sliding scale, my church has capital. It has money to keep the lights on, to run Sunday School craft sessions and support overseas missionaries. The general church budget in America may be shrinking, but the people in the pews are an incredible pool of capital. They show their support for products and services with their wallet and attempt to tithe well in a church community. There are the wealthy and the poor, squashed together to create a surprising capital soup.

Churches have all the makings of incredible business accelerators. They are filled with ideas, skills, communities and capital. They have all the makings of an extraordinary launch pad for people to implement what Jim Collins calls in his book the “Hedgehog Concept.” It is the overlap of passion, talent and economic engine to focus on what it can be the best in the world at. The accelerator knows this, and gathers together around the hedgehogs to launch new, innovative businesses into the marketplace. But our churches, a jigsaw puzzle of passion, talent and economic engine, have not figured out how to overlap the pieces to form the new concept that set them apart in the world. When they do, they will be able to make changes and create companies ready to change their neighborhoods and the world.

 

 

BIO

Meghan Easley is a graduate student studying both theology and social entrepreneurship in Southern California. She works for a research and development organization that looks to support healthy faith maturity in young people. Her time is spent innovating in the overlap of impact and ethics. Learn more about her work at www.easilymeg.com.

Bootstrapping, Cheat Codes, and Missional Entrepreneurship

Matthew Overton

Game-Genie-SNES.jpg

We are at this tricky spot as a venture where we don't quite have enough hours/funds to pay a full time employee, but we almost need one in order to keep up with business and to continue to help business expand.  I have been running this landscaping company while working a full time job with a high burnout rate for the last year.  It hasn't been easy.

So a few weeks ago I phoned and met with a couple of friends to talk about how we might fund this project further.  I had to figure out whether I needed for profit investment or non profit grant funding and how to get it.  It was urgent because I have a sense that if I have to work the current model for another 2 years let's say, I might just implode.  It is high energy. The basic answer I got back from my friends was that I need to work my model until it runs smoothly and shines.  Whether for profit or non profit, no one really wants to fund an experimental venture.  They want to come in when there is significant proof of viability.  They told me that I would have to bootstrap until my model sang.

This was a hard word to receive in some ways. Bootstrapping your venture when you are 24 is one thing. Doing it when you are 36, have two kids, and are already working a job that is 60 hours/week is another.  Most mornings I am up at about 4:15 working on writing or the business. I often finish the day with a few emails or bids for jobs to customers.  If I could eat Ramen and work on this stuff in an apartment 12 years ago it would have been a bit easier I think.  But, in a lot of ways the answer I received about funding was something I already knew.  There are no shortcuts in starting a good business.

When I was 11 my good friend J.P. got a new device for his Nintendo called the Game Genie. It was this crazy thing that allowed you to plug in cheat codes to any game that you had. You could add lives, weapons, etc. etc. etc. until Kingdom come.  It described itself as a "Video Game Enhancer". It was anything but.  What I quickly learned was that short cutting the game did two things.  First, I tired of all the games quickly. Since there was no challenge they made the video games boring in a hurry. You never had to earn anything through game play. Second, the more I cheated the worse I became at the games. I loved playing sports games on my Nintendo, but what I discovered was that after using the Game Genie I was worse at those games. My friends would beat me when we played once I had used the Genie. I had gotten sloppy and learned bad habits because I had been using shortcuts.  This lesson is true for any startup social entrepreneurship.

If I had started with a 100K grant instead of 15K of my own money, this whole venture would have been hopeless. Part of the success of what I am doing IS the fact that I have had to learn it all myself. I had to learn to use the tools, how to walk into a local business and sell my idea, learn how to fix my equipment, learn how to make jobs more efficient, learn what the life skills trainings look like and so on. And most importantly, I have had to learn exactly what the work is that my employees are doing. If I hadn't done all those reeking filthy runs to the dump with wet leaves and rotten grass myself how would I know what to pay my crews?  I also wouldn't have had the relational time with our first 5-6 students to feel out what we need to be training them on in terms of life and faith.  What are their strength points that need to be honed further? What are the weak points that need to be addressed?  The point is that every little bit of learning as you bootstrap is exactly what you need. I think the best sorts of things in life are built one bloody step at a time.  It is the recipe for all things good.

My hope is that we will either get enough business that I can bring someone on full time or that we can get some small funding in the near future.  Yet, as much as I want to move onto that second phase where I can hand chunks of this business off, I also can see why understanding my operation and working my operation without any cheat codes or short cuts really matters. I am prayerfully gauging whether it might just be critical for me to bootstrap this thing for a bit longer. For now, I had better get outside and pray while I am swapping the wheels on my Honda lawn mower. The drive system isn't engaging and I have no idea why. Did I mention that I am not REALLY mechanical?

 

Blessings on your innovations, risks, and adventures! May you follow the Kingdom as it unfolds before you!

The Freedom To Flourish

Matthew Overton

Some mornings when I am exhausted and tired of thinking about Youth Ministry that Works or this "new" way of doing ministry I like to watch this video. I am not sure that I would like all the ideology behind it and it uses to many masculine pronouns for my taste. But,  I do like the way it gives honor to different kinds of good and honorable work. I think God is in the midst of all kinds of work in our world and that is partly why I am trying to build an arm of youth ministry in the United States around this idea.  Maybe it will inspire you as you work today.  Enjoy!